Children of Night: Book 5
Available at Entangled Publishins
There is a very simple reason for all the myths and misconceptions regarding vampires, one simple truth beneath the falsehoods and the fears. The truth and the reason is this: there is nothing simple about vampires. They are amazingly complex creatures, an amalgam of man and mystery first spawned on some dark, forgotten dawn in some dim, forsaken corner of the globe.
Every vampire carries the mark of both parents within in its cells--and upon its soul, if you believe in such things. Each is stamped in the image of the man or woman it once was and infused with the essence of that creature who sired it.
It is fashionable these days, among humans, to say that when you take someone to bed, you are bedding not just that one person--or the two, or three, or however many your personal taste dictates--but everyone who they have ever bedded as well.
Vampires have always known this.
Somewhere along the Eastern coast of Britannia
Early Twelfth Century
The salt air stung Quintano's eyes as he made his way through the woods that skirted the deserted coastline. It burned in his nose and the back of his throat and made his skin itch. The physical discomfort was nothing, however, compared to the memories the brackish smell evoked. He breathed them in with every breath he drew, memories of his youth, of his childhood, of those halcyon days before his ordinary life was taken from him. These unlooked-for reminders of how very far from grace he'd fallen were, in his opinion, the worst part of this misbegotten mission on which he'd been sent. They were far worse than those hungry weeks he'd spent lost in the mountains, or even the near-fatal trap he'd walked into tonight and from which he'd only narrowly escaped.
Hardship didn't bother him, nor did bloodshed. The six murders he'd added this evening to the scores he'd already committed over the past few centuries, concerned him not in the slightest. Even if there had been a way to avoid this evening's deadly adventure, he wasn't sure he'd have taken it. Those he'd killed tonight were vampires, not men. They were beasts like himself and better off dead.
That his mission had failed was also of very little importance to him. The fact that among the deceased was the very vampire he'd been sent here to meet, the reputedly powerful leader with whom his mistress had been hoping to form an alliance--mattered not at all. She would be displeased with him, but what of it? She'd been displeased with him before.
Either she'd get over it, or she would not and one was much the same as the other to him. If the worst punishment she could think to mete out was to send him away again, out of her sight, out of her bed, making his way alone in the wilderness for months at a time on some all-but-hopeless mission, Quintano would welcome her continued displeasure and whatever resulted from it. If it ended in his death, so be it.
He despised himself for craving her as he did. That he could long for her even now, even knowing what she was, that he could physically ache for her touch, was repugnant and further proof that he'd sunk beyond any hope of redemption. Being banished from her presence for whatever reason, or none at all, was a blessing, albeit a painful one, no matter the outcome. It was a torment, yes; but one he embraced and would willingly endure for it was also a far better fate than one such as he deserved.
At last the small harbor town he'd been seeking came into view. He paused, still in the shadow of the trees, and stared at the sky, gauging the time. It was just on midnight. He had hours yet to pass before he could hope to find someone he might convince to give him passage across the channel. In the meantime, he'd do well to try and find someone to eat. He had no wish for a reprise of the near-disaster that had marked his voyage here. The sea spray had sharpened his appetite to an unexpected and dangerous edge on that earlier crossing. When the hunger hit him, he'd been on the brink of taking the whole crew. To be sure, eight men would likely have served to slake his terrible thirst, but their deaths would have left him stranded mid-channel.
What had saved him, and the lucky crew, was the mental discipline he'd gained from the months of near-starvation he'd been made to endure at the hands of his mistress. It was ironic that her cruelty, combined with his own stubborn refusal to give into what he'd become, should have stood him in such good stead. Still, it had been a very near thing. It had been all he could do to keep his inner beast in check until they'd reached the shore and he could go in search of a suitable victim to claim, someone who'd needed killing as badly as Quintano needed to live. He could only hope that tonight's hunt would bring him someone equally deserving of a quick and merciless death.
The stars were barely visible in the sky overhead, obscured as they were by wispy clouds, but perhaps they heard his silent wishes all the same. As though in answer to his thoughts, the sound of armed conflict reached his ears. At this time of night, and in so isolated a cove, it could be nothing honorable. He crept closer, following the sounds that appeared to come from the seaward side of a nearby dune. The scene that met his eyes once he'd reached the top and peered over the rise, was everything he'd been hoping for, and everything he hated. The battle that raged in the lonely campsite was stacked--four against one--and the one a mere girl, armed only with a blazing brand she'd pulled from the fire and with which she was valiantly attempting to fight off her larger and more heavily-armed foes.
The thrill of battle rose within him and the anticipation of a heavy meal filled Quintano with satisfaction. He pulled his sword in preparation of joining the fray. His excitement turned dull, however, when he got a closer look at the combatants and realized all five of those on the shore were vampires. His mood soured. Their blood was of little use to him and whether one, or four or all five of them met their deaths this night, was of no interest. He was on the brink of re-sheathing his sword and slipping back into the woods when something about the girl stopped him. He paused for a moment to reconsider.
Perhaps it was her determination that caught his eye. Her refusal to give into defeat, even despite the overwhelming odds, struck a familiar chord. He knew well what that was like. She was badly outnumbered, yet she faced her attackers bravely, with her head held high, wielding a weapon that was every bit as much a danger to her as it was to her opponents; maybe more so. Her long, blond hair had come loose during her struggle and the wind gusting off the water kept catching strands of it, blowing them across her face, into her eyes, and perilously close to the business-end of her torch. It was surely a matter of "when" not "if" her locks would catch fire and set her ablaze. He was half-tempted to stick around out of morbid curiosity, if nothing else, to see how things ended. How long before she finally managed to immolate herself? How many of the others could she succeed in taking down with her?
As he watched, the woman lost her footing in the loose sand. The others closed in. Quintano was surprised to find himself holding his breath until she'd righted herself. Once she was back on her feet, her attackers quickly backed off again.
Quintano frowned. He was disgusted by the men's cowardice. Had they really wished to end the girl's life, they should have been willing to risk their own in the attempt. He rubbed absently at his chest. He would have termed the odd pang he was feeling just then a mix of pity and admiration had he believed himself still capable of such emotions. More likely, it was simple regret at seeing the waste of so much potential. She was a comely thing, trim and well-formed. She must have been little more than a girl when the change had been forced upon her. Had she lived, she'd have probably made someone a very capable wife and mother. She fought well too. The soldier in him couldn't help but appreciate that.
Again he thought to turn away, but still he hesitated. Neither the conflict, nor its inevitable outcome concerned him, but he was a man of action and it was not in his nature to do nothing. The next time the woman's foot slipped and she fell to one knee, he found himself charging out of the woods without even giving the matter a moment's thought. He reached her side just in time to deflect the blade that would likely have severed her arm.
Before his opponent had time to recover from his surprise at being so suddenly thwarted, Quintano swung his sword again and relieved the man of his head. The three remaining males immediately re-oriented their attention on him, but by then the woman was once again on her feet. When Quintano's sword felled a second vampire, the other two turned and ran--like the cowards they were.
Grunting in satisfaction, Quintano tore a piece of cloth from the tunic worn by one of the dead vampires and used it to wipe his blade clean. The woman stood motionless, still holding the blazing branch defensively in front of her. From the corner of his eye Quintano watched her watch him. Her expression was tense, her heartbeat even faster than before. He found it odd that she should seem even more wary now than she had earlier when her death had seemed such a sure thing. Perhaps she was in shock and had not yet realized she was safe?
Casually, so as not to alarm her any further, he stepped away a few paces, putting a little more distance between them in an effort to reassure her he meant her no harm. He sat on a log that had washed up on the beach and continued to tend to his sword. "You might want to put the torch down," he suggested, still not facing her directly and striving for a calm and even tone. "Before you accidentally set yourself alight."
"You might want to tell me what you think you're doing here," she replied coldly. "Before I set you alight--and not by accident."